Virtual Worlds Online
Virtual worlds online range from gaming sites to business sites like
Second Life Work.
Although the concept of virtual worlds has been around since the 1990s, slow computer processing speeds and even slower internet connections presented real barriers to graphic quality. The original virtual worlds were cartoon-like and 2 dimensional. There was no chance of a player mistaking that kind of virtual world for reality. Avatars moved with jerking movements and wore the same outfits every time they were played.
But with fast processors and internet connections, and the capability to store
of information on small hard drives, the graphic displays within virtual worlds are approaching the quality of real world photography. This increased computing power also allows realistic simulations. For example, in Second Life, avatars can dance, do yoga, scuba dive and windsurf in three realistic looking dimensions.
Immersion in a virtual world
As a result of this realism, a phenomena known as "immersion" has been observed by professional researchers. This is one of the reasons that online virtual worlds are now being used by universities, governments and businesses for training venues and collaborative work spaces. Immersion means that participants experience emotional responses when interacting with the virtual environment and with other virtual participants. In fact, there is
being done that indicates that people in the real world begin to adopt the healthy behaviors that their avatars participate in, like exercise routines.
Educators and businesses are recognizing the potential for using virtual worlds online in ways that move beyond simple distance learning. The first generation of distance learning was little more than multiple choice questions delivered by computer and scored on the spot. But the immersion aspect of the virtual experience means that people can interact and collaborate in ways that are truly experimental and could not necessarily be accomplished in a real world setting. Distance is no longer a barrier to forming convenient work groups. And budget cuts that eliminate travel expenses are no longer a factor in whether or not people can attend a training session.
Freedom to be creative
Role playing different situations in Virtual worlds online produces more creative results and deeper learning when participants feel as if their experience is "real". For instance, working in a virtual group to build a project allows participants to try out new ideas with no risk of wasting expensive materials. People can try out virtual partnerships that do not have to be permanent or even long term. There is increased freedom to be creative and try new things, since the consequences of virtual mistakes do not have to be lived out in the real world.
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